CASTLETON, Vt.- The 65th annual VT-NH Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl needed an almost hour and a half delay due to a storm in the area, but once it got started, it was a war between the Granite state and the Green Mountain state. And, just like the game needed time to get going, so did team Vermont, as they overcame a one-point halftime deficit to run away with the Shrine game in the second half, winning 24-13 to secure team Vermont’s third straight victory in the series.
While addressing his team directly after the game, VT head coach Greg Balch (Windsor), said, “That was old school football. I told you before I couldn’t be more proud to have the opportunity to coach you… and that was before the game. After watching you in the game, oh man, we got guys who can fight and battle for 48 minutes.”
The game did not start in Vermont’s favor, as New Hampshire’s defense created pressure early on. The game opened up with a sack on VT QB, Seth Balch (Windsor) and then a fumble on the next play by Bellows Falls’ Shane Clark, which led to a NH touchdown right off the bat. Matthew Harkins (Bow) threw a 29-yard TD to Matt Simco (Hollis-Brookline) on third down to put NH up 7-0.
After teams traded punts for the majority of the first quarter, VT got on the board with a 35-yard pick six by Jay McCoy (Burr and Burton). The PAT missed and VT trailed, 7-6. In the second frame, both teams offenses stalled, and the score remained 7-6 at the half.
In the first half, Balch had just one completion on eight attempts for 29 yards, but in the second-half, Balch and Tyler Hamilton (Hartford) took control of the game on the ground.
Post-game, NH’s Nick Stone (Stevens), said, “It was a big momentum swing out of halftime. We were up by one but Vermont had a full head of steam. That’s how the game of football goes.”
Aidan Cahill and Nick Stone of Stevens played in the trenches all night.
At the 11-minute mark in the third, NH’s Harkins had a deep pass intended for Erik Stephens (Dover) picked off by Hamilton over the middle. Hamilton then had five straight carries as VT started to march down the field. Shane Clark had a run to get VT down to the NH 36.
Later in the drive, Balch came up with his best pass of the game. On 3rd and 22 after two negative plays and a delay of game, Balch dropped back to throw, stepped up in the pocket, scrambled to his right and delivered a nice touch on a sideline throw to Will Fischer that resulted in a 24-yard completion to maintain the drive.
To cap off the 13-play, 58-yard drive that lasted 5:58, McCoy took a direct snap and ran it in from ten yards out. VT led 12-7 after a failed 2-pt conversion.
After a 26-yard run from RJ Jenkins, NH was down to the VT 36. On a third and ten, NH’s Mike McAlister tried hitting Simco by the first-down marker, but a big hit from Windsor’s Dakota Page broke up the pass and stopped the NH drive.
VT continued to roll after the NH punt, going on a 14-play, 72-yard drive that chewed up 7:56 of the clock. A drive that was a mixed bag of Hamilton punching it up the middle and Balch with QB keepers to the outside was capped off by a Balch play-action keeper around the left edge to make the score 18-7 after the 2-pt conversion failed.
“When you have a first half when you don’t move the ball, there’s always the temptation to change everything. But, we thought that the run game was there, and we were going to work it… and see if Tyler [Hamilton] could give us a spark, said coach Balch after the game. “We really established the inside game. The only reason those keepers were there is because we ran so much off-tackle that they were pinching down on everything, and Seth is the one who noticed that [the QB keepers] were there.”
On the next NH possession, they stayed alive on a 4th and 17, 34-yard TD pass from Harkins to Simco at the 4:54 mark in the fourth. On the two-point attempt that could’ve brought NH to within a field goal, Harkins was hit out at the goal line rushing to the right edge. VT held the lead, 18-13.
On the ensuing kickoff, VT’s Hamilton may have preserved the team’s chance to win. After letting the kick off bounce, thinking it would go into the endzone, the ball stopped dead at the VT one yard-line. Hamilton was aware to scoop up the ball, dodge a couple defenders, and amazingly return it 18 yards up the sideline.
On the drive, Balch had a few long runs, and capped off the drive with a six-yard keeper for a score with 1:14 left in the game.
“I thought Seth did a nice job of making audibles at the line and engineering the game… just taking what was there and not trying to do too much… which is what we preached all week,” said coach Balch.
For New Hampshire, RJ Jenkins led the way on the ground, rushing 12 times for 57 yards. Harkins led the air-attack, throwing for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on 7-16, with one pick. Simco caught three balls for 68 yards and 2 TD’s.
For Vermont, Tyler Hamilton rushed 15 times for 67 yards. Balch completed 2 of 9 for 51 yards. On the ground, Balch ran 13 times for 59 yards and 2 TD’s. Fischer caught the two balls for 51 yards.
VT assistant coach Matt Meagher, after the game, told the Vermont squad, “I knew from the second I met you guys that your work ethic would show up on the scoreboard. I’m proud of you guys… you played a helluva game and I’m going to miss you all.”
Ben Meagher, who played primarily as an edge defender for VT, on the win, said, “Amazing feeling to put in that week of work and come out with a victory. It was a great finish for the kids from Windsor and all the brothers and friends that I’ve made this week.”
On winning the Shrine game with three high school teammates and four coaches from the Windsor staff, Ben Meagher said, “I couldn’t see it any other way right now… it would be pretty hard to do it without them. It’s truly amazing that I got this opportunity with [Jake Tucker, Seth Balch, and Dakota Page]. It’s going to be memories forever.”
On the losing end, Stone was happy to play in the trenches with his Stevens High buddy, Aidan Cahill all night. Cahill was lined up at center and Stone was by his side at right guard. “It’s always a fun battle, especially when I get to play next to someone I know,” said Stone. “It’s good playing next to someone that I’m close to because we can keep each other in check. Sometimes he gets out of line, sometimes I get out of line… but we always keep each other in check.”
“It was a fight the whole time,” said Cahill. “We went into half 7-6 and we felt good. Our defense had been solid the whole time. We both played a good game they just came out on top. They were on the field for too long… we needed to get longer drives going. But, it’s good to make it a game again… the last couple years [NH] wasn’t able to move the ball. It’s good to see New Hampshire heading in the right direction.”
First downs: VT 17, NH 8
Rushing yards: VT 215, NH 51
Passing yards: VT 51, NH 158
Total offense: VT 266, NH 209
Time of possession: VT 29:28, NH 18:32
-- KAMERON TOWLE